GREEN BAY – It’s hard to say which is more remarkable about the Packers’ pass rush so far in 2015.
That it has racked up 17 sacks in four games, good for a tie for second in the league. Or that eight different players already have gotten to the quarterback in the first quarter of the season.
“You can never have too many riches on defense,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I think we’re using them to the best of our abilities.”
Of the eight players who have posted a tally in the sack column this year, five have two or more. All eight also reside in the defensive front, as no one in the secondary has recorded a sack yet for Green Bay.
For comparison’s sake, last year nine different linemen or linebackers got sacks, and six of them had two or more. That was for the whole season. This year, there are still 12 games to play, and plenty more players will have a chance to join in.
The current pace may be difficult to maintain, but the cliché that touts players pushing one another to succeed appears to hold true here. Nobody wants to be left out of the sack party.
“You know that other guys are going to get there if you don’t,” said Julius Peppers, whose 3½ sacks rank just ahead of Matthews’ and Nick Perry’s three apiece. “It’s a competition to try to make plays, because if you don’t, the next guy will.
“I’m riding high right now. I’ve got a half-sack lead on Clay, so I’m feeling good right now. I’m trying to keep it that way.”
Matthews called it a defense that is “playing fast and physical and having fun.”
“I think everybody just wants their shot,” he said. “That’s what’s great about this defense, especially this year, is everybody wants to prove their worth.”
The Rams have made it difficult to get to QB Nick Foles by running the ball and utilizing a variety of screen passes. The Packers know that, which sets up for an interesting cat-and-mouse game that starts first and foremost with stopping new feature running back Todd Gurley.
Since a rough start in Week 1 defensively, the Packers have not only stopped the run but effectively limited big plays in general. With their running games going nowhere, the Seahawks, Chiefs and 49ers combined to produce just six pass plays of 25 yards or more.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers often recites how dramatically the probability of an offensive drive ending in a score goes up when a big play is allowed, so he was especially proud of his group this past week.
In San Francisco, the Packers rose up both times after the 49ers struck for a big chunk of yards. The 49ers managed just a field goal after Quinton Patton’s 40-yard gain on a shovel pass, and they didn’t score at all after a 47-yard bomb to Torrey Smith.
Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall gave up the deep ball to Smith, but when 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and Smith challenged him again three plays later in the end zone, Randall was in perfect position to knock away the pass. It was an impressive recovery in such a short span of plays by such a young player.
“The guys around here, confidence is very high, including him, and we like it,” Peppers said. “Guys in this league are going to make plays on you, but it’s how you respond to it, and he did a great job coming back and breaking that play up.”
On the next snap came a fourth-down sack to clinch the win and the three-point outing by the defense, a performance that has set the standard but will admittedly be difficult to repeat this week, or any week.
The Packers are taking nothing for granted, no matter how much fast, physical fun they’re having right now.
“This is the NFL. You’re facing a totally different offense, totally different skill players,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “You see it all the time where defenses have a game like we just had, and the next game it blows up on them. We understand that. We know what we have in store for us.”
Three-quarters of a regular season, to be exact.
“It’s not just about four games,” Matthews said. “We’d like to keep this thing going.”
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